Nobody would like to be in Fabio Quartararo's shoes this weekend. The Red Bull Ring seems to have been designed to spite Yamaha and favour Ducati. The Austrian track, in its latest incarnation, has hosted 7 GPs (5 Austrian and 2 Styrian) and the Reds have won 5, the remaining 2 for host manufacturer KTM.
There's something new this year: they've added a chicane to turn 2 to increase safety, but it's hard to say that the M1 will benefit. It's a tight S, braking and acceleration from low speeds, stuff for the V4s like Ducati and Aprilia. The two Italian bikes have the horsepower it takes to shine in those conditions, the opposite of Yamaha.
So Aleix Espargarò and Pecco Bagnaia can hope, while Quartararo will have to invent a half miracle. He still has 22 points over the Spaniard, 49 over the Italian, many but not too many. Also because (Silverstone as an example) their brand mates could take away important points. With two consecutive podiums, Vinales has shown that he has now got the hang of the RS-GP and when it comes to Ducati, you are spoiled for choice. Miller, Bastianini, Martin, Zarco, Bezzecchi have all already got on the podium this season, Marini is not far from succeeding.
Fabio's problem is not speed over the lap, but speed on the straight. Of course he can be quick even at the Red Bull Ring, but as long as he is not in the group. In that case, kilometres per hour are precious allies and there is little that can be done when you regularly have the paint stripped off the bike on the straight. Also because the M1 has to do its (round) trajectories to give its best, but when you follow a V4 it's not possible and things get even more complicated.
Of the three title contenders, none of them have ever won at the Red Bull Ring. Bagnaia was on the podium only once last year (in a race marked by the flag-to-flag), Quartararo did it twice, Espargarò never. However, the situation is different and while Pecco can count on Ducati tradition on that track, Aleix knows that his Aprilia is now very different from the past and the podium is not a mirage. We just need to understand what conditions the Spaniard will be in, because at Silverstone he broke his right heel. He was not operated on, but only on the bike will he understand if ten days was enough to get back on his feet.
However it goes, Quartararo will have to sweat it out, on a track where everything is flowing against him. Coming from two races in which he has lost points does not help, unless he uses his anger to give himself a new boost, but up to a certain point. In fact, while neither Bagnaia nor Espargarò can afford to throw away points, not even the Frenchman is granted this luxury or he would risk starting all over again with a handful of races from the end of the championship.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. On Sunday we will be able to see who is tough enough.